Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Falling Leaves

If I am truly honest, my favourite season is whichever one it is right now. In the winter I keep an anxious look out for snow and revel in it if it arrives, I enjoy the nip of the early mornings, the need to wear hat and mittens and the cozy feeling when it starts to get dark at 4 and you can see the office lights shining out into the darkness and the fairy lights strung up in the trees around Birmingham.

In the spring there is the series of firsts; first snowdrop, first daffodil, first tulip, first day without a coat, possibly even first day in sandals. For summer, and I mean real summer, not the washed out excuse for a swimming cozzie we had this year, I love the smell of hot sun cream on tanned skin, cool breezy evenings, the crash of surf around my ears during the first swim of the season, birthdays and vanilla sponge cake.

At the moment of course, my favourite is Autumn. I know this because I'm wearing orange. Again. Autumn is all about crisp mornings, the first frost, wearing socks again (I stopped in May), particularly all the socks I made over the summer, favourite jumpers and cardigans coming out of the bottom drawer, and peerless sunny days with trees flaming copper against a deep blue sky.

We look out onto a deep brick red wall only a couple of metres away, five floors above a little alley. At one end of the alley is the churchyard and every now and then my eye is caught by a flash of green and yellow skittering past my window as the trees wave farewell to summer.

It really isn't that much of a surprise then to discover that my knitting matches the season:
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These knitted diamonds are part of something much bigger which has yet to be revealed so for the moment, they are falling leaves, dropping from my needles and catching round my ankles, waiting to be swept up to be made into something special.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Another weekend, another wedding. We've just got back from attending H's cousin's wedding oop north and I am delighted to say that we have now finished the marathon of 'weddings we have been to'.

The wedding was a blur of uncles and aunts and cousins, only a few of whom I had met before, and then it was at our wedding but I feel I have got a little bit more of an idea as to who is who. H has 15 sets of uncles and aunts and around 40 cousins. He can name all of the uncles and aunts on a good day and about a third of the cousins so you get an idea of what I'm trying to get to grips with!

Being nothing if not consistent, my knitting for the weekend was this:

Another BSJ, this time a more successful interpretation of gender neutral. The multicoloured yarn is some Opal which I had leftover from making these socks; I have no idea what the colour is but it's pretty. When that ran out I switched to green Baby Cashmerino which picks up the flecks of green in the Opal. All I need now are some buttons.

The flower is from the wedding, each lady was given a white flower to wear, and each gentleman wore a red buttonhole.

As a little extra, this is my favourite picture from Saturday:

Friday, September 26, 2008

London Calling

Even during the couple of years I spent living in Wimbledon, I never considered myself a Londoner; geographically misplaced Devonian maybe, but Londoner, no! I liked the wide open spaces, the sea and the coastline, and rolling hills. Not noise and traffic and the diesel belch of a passing bus which grits in your teeth.

However, whenever we get a spare day it is to London that we go, but to our favourite spaces, shops and views. And that is precisely where we went on Thursday.

It is a family joke that whenever my father plans an expedition, the list of sites to see in that day will stretch the ordinary family and yet there are little extras built in on all sides, "just one more", "just up this hill", "just...".

I am nothing if not my father's daughter. I also adhere to his maxim that you see things best on foot. H has learned to wear sensible footwear.

From Warwickshire you arrive by train into Marylebone which crosses off one Monopoly square for starters, and we took shanks pony down into Marylebone itself. Marylebone High Street is a picture of upper middle class shopping, there's no other way to describe it. It is perfect for window shopping all the gadgets, odd arty furniture, and hand painted china you could ever need. We did however, fall victim to the Cath Kidston shop. Secretly I love Cath Kidston prints in the same way that I love Martha Stewart Living. I know that however much I aspire to have my home look like that it will still be full of hockey sticks, fragrant sports clothes, golf clubs and bags and boxes of yarn and fabric, but I girl's got to dream.

H, loving as ever, and with a fairly recent recollection of the interaction between a pin and the sole of his foot, bought me this:
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And a pinny covered in strawberries which I fell in love with. The reason for our heading in this direction was to pay a visit to the legendary VV Rouleaux. I wish I'd taken a picture of the outside of this shop because the window displays were lovely and the shop itself is a great plummy colour but I was hypnotised by the wares beckoning me in. If you have never heard of it, VV Rouleaux sells ribbons, from the finest gauze to the heavy cord tassels needed to hold floor length curtains in place. We found a rack full of embroidered ribbonsSeptember 226

and as you see, a few came home. The pink at the top left is little girl ribbon, then the orange stripe I want to turn into knitwear somehow, the green is elephant ribbon, then there are blue boats and three different colours of butterflies - inspiration ribbons one and all, these will turn up as trims on quilts or tiny clothes, or wrapped around very special parcels. Or maybe I will keep them to look at and play with and love.
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Our meanderings took us past Harley Street (where we paid homage on behalf of the medical members of the family) and past this:

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A cow. On a first floor balcony. Lest it not be obvious from the picture I should stress that this is not a real cow, which would be very lost, but I suspect it to be part of the Cow Parade. It's at the end of Wimpole Street behind Oxford Street if anyone knows which one it is.

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Need I say more or shall I just show you the buttons?
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Five pretty little flowery buttons to go on this piece of knitwear:
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Before I give you the impression that this was simply a very girly shopping trip which I dragged my husband on, our next stop (well after the bead shop at the bottom of Carnaby Street) was his choice - The Royal Academy:

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This sculpture is called Promenade, originally intended for the Tuilleries gardens in Paris, but instead set up in a courtyard in London. During the week, and without any special exhibitions on, there is not that much to see as a lot of the galleries are closed. However, we found plenty to enjoy including, A Quiet Corner, which I can't find on the internet but which has a girl in tudor dress curled up in a sunny windowsill with a book while the fire burns brightly next to her feet. She isn't reading the book but has looked up to see someone coming into the room.

Oh and we found a painting with knitting - Alone by Amy K Browning. In the flesh the lady's face is far more detailed than the rest of the painting, drawing your eye in to her expression - she's too sad to knit.

H is a keen and fairly talented artist and for him, Mecca is three floors of art shop, Cass Art in Islington. "Islington!", I hear you say, "surely there's a knitting shop there!". And you would be correct.

Fortified by a slow pint in a pub near the Angel we made it to both Loop and Cass Art. Loop is small but crammed full of yarn and books and lovely things which I hadn't seen before and would find it hard to get anywhere else. For example, Autumn Vogue Knitting (with amazing mittens) and the Norah Gaughan books, which just might have come home with me!

We made it back to central London as dusk fell, and we sat in Trafalgar Square to watch the world go by

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before heading into the National Portrait Gallery which has late opening to 9pm on Thursdays and Fridays. I don't think I've ever been in before, I've always gone for the familiarity of the National next door, but although much smaller it is more concentrated. We say pictures of the Tudors (always a favourite period in history), the portrait of Shakespeare that always pops up on the back of the textbooks, the Stuarts, William and Mary, naughty Queen Caroline, right through to Vera Brittan, Beatrix Potter, and our modern Olympians. Walking through the chronology either painting ability/style has improved or people looked really funny in Tudor times!

After a delicious supper nearby and a stroll around Leicester Square to play with the hand prints (I'm smaller than Arnie and bigger than Maggie Smith), we came home. But there was one last surprise:

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Miniature fairy cakes from Fortnum & Mason. Perfect.

The knitting requiring buttons was this:

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The first of a conveyor-belt of Baby Surprise Jackets for the onslaught of babies due in the next few months. I was hoping that this one was going to be gender-neutral (yes, I can hear you laughing) but by the time we arrived in London it was clear that this jacket was for a girl so I capitulated and bought the Liberty buttons to match.

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It might have been for today's baby, born this morning, but as his name is Oliver, I think we shall have to find something else for him!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A star, so bright

All the stars are coming out tonight
They’re lighting up the sky tonight

It will be no surprise to anyone who knows me to discover that I frequently underestimate time and overestimate how much I can achieve in that time. Accordingly, shortly before I started this wonderful holiday week I made a list of everything that I wanted to accomplish; suffice to say that it contains enough quilting, knitting, embroidery etc to occupy a week each. However, one true aim was to finish putting together my Star-along quilt.

I finished the setting blocks on Tuesday afternoon and did all the cutting for the sashing blocks. I like the cutting but I really need a higher work surface to cut on and that's not something that I can make from shoe boxes and sellotape - I'll have to give that one some thought.

Yesterday I devoted myself to fights with my sewing machine over the bobbin and the thread tension, which I still don't really understand. I was getting little locks on the surface of the fabric where it looks like the top thread is not actually being pulled through the fabric. The manual said loosen the top thread tension which at one point I could take down to 0 with no discernible difference save that the back was a jumble of loose thread. I think it has something to do with the bobbin so I just kept resetting the bobbin until it worked but it was all very frustrating.

Anyway, I have a quilt:
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And it's massive - I was trying to take pictures last night but I just couldn't get it all in!

This is over a king size bed, and it's only slightly smaller than the duvet:

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And here we have the quilt smothering our comfortable two-seater sofa

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It wasn't until this morning that I could take this photo, by laying it on the lawn and leaning out of the bedroom window:

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It is I think a classic beginner level quilt, if you look closely there are blunt triangles and lines that don't quite match up but I don't really care. AmandaJean has done a fantastic job with her second quiltalong and I highly recommend it. My massive quilt is not going to get much bigger, I thought about adding a border but I don't have enough fabric so instead it will get a simple blue binding to match the setting blocks when I've quilted it (when!!! eek). I need to practice on something a little bit smaller first and then we can try this one.

I'm contemplating quilting down the diagonal lines made by the setting blocks and then outlining each star or something like that - any suggestions?

My second quilting project for the day/week (yes, I know, see above under reference 'obsessive') is also taking inspiration from another tutorial from AmandaJean, this time a good deal smaller,

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This isn't quite finished but you can get the idea of what it will look like. Underneath the fabric is a cheap pinboard from Ikea (I think it may have been called Chris) which I bought for my library/study/who-are-we-kidding-sewing-room. It is pinboard brown in a tasty pine frame, not the thing for my haven.

So, I cut strips of fabric 2" wide and sewed them together and then cut three patches at different angles 4.5" wide, and the square strips. The pieces in between are some relatively heavy grade calico.

I love the fact that from a distance it looks as though it might be slightly floral, and then close up:

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Sparkly cake. The child within me is alive and well.

H has a plan for attaching the pin board cozy to the pinboard which involves one of his palette knives and a staple-gun. Apparently a staple-gun is a useful thing to have around so he is quite pleased to be getting one. My role is clearly to stand by with bandages and check it goes on straight!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hopscotch in the Park

Sunday is a day of rest. Occasionally, rarely, it is in the UK a day of peerless sunshine in which everything becomes bathed in a golden glow and the world slows down for the afternoon, fulfilling every criteria for English rural life, including the ice-cream van.

Anxious not to waste any part of this unexpected gift Mary and I abandoned our respective other halves and headed to the park for a little tea, a little cake and a little knitting. We had ice-cream and hot chocolate and basked in the sunshine on a bench up above the river and watched people passing by, people sculling precariously up the khaki muddy river, and knit socks, second socks to be precise; Mary a warm heathery blue pair for toasty toes in the winter and me, well Hopscotch:
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I meant to blog about these socks part way through creation but as is so often the case, the blog post was in my mind but never actually made it onto the 'page'. These socks are the fifth installment of the Socktopus Sock Club, started as I headed down to the second spinning class on the 14th, knit on a business trip to London on Monday, knit with the girls on Tuesday night, knit on the way to the dentist on Wednesday (but not on the way back which speaks volumes), knit to work and back on Thursday and Friday, abandoned for a wedding on Saturday, and finished on Sunday.
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These socks have seen courtrooms, waiting rooms and tea rooms and seem none the worse for it.
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They have even seen a very unusual car:
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An orange car; part of a parade of unusual cars lined up in the park on Sunday.

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I keep saying that each new pair of socks is my new favourite pattern but it's true - this is definitely a pattern that I will repeat. What I really love is the way that it looks all innocent, a slightly bumpy ribbed sock,

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and then you spread the sock around your foot and you get this:
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Thursday, September 18, 2008

September Strawberry

Do you remember that merino that was calling my name? There really was only one way that that was going to end, and here it is:
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50 grams ish of Strawberries and Cream handspun merino. The next step is to wind it into a centre-pull ball and then go for the plying but for some extraordinary reason H just didn't seem that keen on the idea of holding onto the spindle while I wound - who would have thought it?

Luckily for me, ingenuity is not an alien concept, nor is construction of anything out of plastic boxes, loo roll tubes and sellotape - as evidence I offer you (a) the niddy-noddy, and (b) the fact that my sister had a working lighthouse made out of a washing up bottle which my father made when we were small - you squeezed the sides to make it flash, it was very cool.

So, here is how you make your very own Lazy Husband (who was Kate anyway?):

First you need a plastic tub. This one has in its lifetime encountered both Cornish ice-cream and patchwork pieces so clearly yarn was the next logical step.September 112

To that box, I sellotaped half a loo roll tube to each sideSeptember 113

And my spindle slots in perfectly.

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There are two tiny hitches with my otherwise perfect plan. Number 1 is that you have to keep a foot near the end of the spindle to stop it sliding too far and falling out and number 2 is that it spins a little too easily so sometimes it is best to let the yarn run through your fingers to stop it looping up on the ball winder.

Until it looks like this:
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And with a 10p for size

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All plied up it went all stripy and swirly

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And now, I have real yarn - yippee

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I have 135 metres of what I think is about 4ply and I'm longing to knit with it. This spinning malarky is getting serious. Run, run while you can.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Knitting? I do that!

Spinning is now firmly established as part of my daily life. One of these days I'll just be too busy with all of the crafty things to remember to go to work - oh, wait, maybe that's why I was a bit late the other day - oops - too much ravelry at breakfast.

I am though at heart still a knitter first and foremost and there's very little that a knitter can do when the yarn calls, but cast on. An eagerly anticipated parcel arrived from Socktopus on Saturday (does anyone else notice that Alice is turning out to be a most wonderful enabler!) with the fifth sock parcel. I can't believe it's the fifth sock already. I've signed up again for next year because (a) it's been brilliant and (b) otherwise I'd be terribly sad at it ending. Oh and (c) H really likes the shiny parcels.

Before I got further:
If you are in the Socktopus Club and want to keep it a surprise then move along. Come back tomorrow or maybe Wednesday.

Right then, just us left? Look-see:

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Toe-up Hopscotch Socks in yarn that is mushrooms and clouds and sunsets and green leaves all at once. It is more muted than anything that I ever pick for myself, being queen of the bright colours, but it is just gorgeous; and very soothing to look it.

It lasted about 5 or 6 hours in my home before I wound it up.

The little box is my most favourite bell and whistle yet. It opens out to become:

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More little boxes - it's almost as good as a tardis. And inside the little boxes there were:
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A thread cutter, a plastic sewing up needle, post it notes, a harmony cable needle which is nice and short and has cunning little grooves in it to hold the stitches without stabbing your hand, blue marking tape, little stitch marker elastics and coil-less safety pins. I've added a little tape measure from my work sewing kit and it is my constant companion on my many train trips.

But enough of this, I know what you really want to see:

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The first few inches of sock. Mesmerising, engaging cables with lots of lovely plain rounds in between - you can't ask for more.

All that train knitting does mean that I get a fair few socks done and so I have finished each of my socktopus socks before the next one arrives, and so I got badges:

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I feel that I need a sash to put them on (although in my day it was the sleeve(s) of your tunic), preferably with a slightly tatty name tape that says 1st Warwickshire Knitters, and an embroidered picture of the bear and crooked staff that's slightly skewiff.

If you have absolutely no idea what I'm going on about try here and here. In the interests of full disclosure I should tell you that I had the Northamptonshire Tudor Rose on my sleeve. I was an Imp. Clearly nothing very much has changed, and I'm still a sucker for badges.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Spinning: Part Deux

In which we fall, and fall harder.

The beauty of the Socktopus beginner spinning course is that in spreading it out over two Sundays with a week or two in between, you get to practice and get to grips with drafting and spindling and the whole rub-your-tummy-pat-your-head scenario. I'm glad I practiced as much as I did because today was when the simple, meditative action of spindle spinning blue faced leicester or merino, kicked up a notch. There were wheels and there was fibre.

We did do a little bit of spindle spinning our existing fibre to start the day off and warm up the fingers and brains but then, there were wheels, both Ashford Joys. Pretty much as soon as I gently pressed down on the treadle I knew I was sunk. It took a little while to get used to drafting in time with the twist, and it took several shufflings before I got the wheel and my chair far enough apart that my lanky legs didn't get in the way - it's like reaching for the pedals on a car- but by the end of each of my turn on the wheels I was spinning yarn that I was happy with, thin-ish, and not too overtwisted.

I'm hoping that I can hold out until Christmas to save up for a wheel but Christmas may have to come early. I really liked the Joy but I will aim to try a few wheels just to see. I love the look of the Schacht Ladybug but it is significantly more expensive than the Joy and if it's just a red wheel with a little ladybug it may not be worth the extra funds. If you have any recommendations for something that you think that I must try then please let me know.

Diane also showed us her spindle lazy kate and a brilliant way to transfer yarn from the spindle without asking your husband to sit and hold a revolving spindle for half an hour by sliding it onto a drinking straw and then using it on a lazy kate. Either we are going to have to get one or H is going to have to make one. I know this because he gave me a ballwinder and swift shortly after I started needing him to spread the yarn to wind skeins. A lazy kate is technically a gadget so that passes muster with the man of the house.

The rest of the time was spent playing with fibre. We have:

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Tussah silk - soft and golden,

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And more mohair. My associations with mohair are that it is soft and fluffy but this is hard and a thick fibre. Diane had some pure mohair spun up and it is very crunchy and not something you would want next to your skin. Kid Silk Haze is clearly a product of the alchemist rather than the spinning mills.
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This is Wensleydale ( I think). It is much coarser to touch than the merino of BFL and is very very curly. I think it would need a bit more carding before spinning.
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This is Corridale, coarser than BFL and merino and described as a pot scrubber by one of our number. It does have lovely long fibres though and should spin up nicely.

And alpaca
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Doesn't it look like a Jackson Pollock painting?

I had some locks as well which I carded on the hand cards into these two rolls - the top one is the second one and the better one!

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It's a different sort of preparation for spinning because the fibres are all parallel to each other here, rather than leading into each other as in combed top. I know that this makes the difference as to whether I'm spinning worsted or woolen but I can't remember which one's which. Whichever it is, this should make big fluffy yarn.

And finally, we had some Poleworth to play with and flick card into big white fluffy clouds like this:

What, you don't see it? Alas I left my fluffy angel cloud on the side of Alice's sofa and forgot to pick it up to bring home. I'm going to have to find some more at some point though!

And the reason why none of these fibres are on my spindle at the moment?

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It's been a little occupied!

All in all it's been a great day and I highly recommend the Socktopus classes if you fancy learning to spin.